It’s called the “GoRuck Challenge”, a military-style endurance event led by former Special Forces personnel that stresses toughness and teamwork in the face of almost insurmountable challenges. It is less extreme than some events in the growing field of obstacle racing, such as the annual Spartan Death Race, but it’s much longer and more difficult than events such as Run Amuck and Warrior Dash.
In fact, it’s not a race at all, and, unlike the Death Race, organizers aren’t trying to force participants to quit. (GoRuck hosts other events that whittle away all but the toughest of the tough.) Only two people dropped out of this weekend’s challenge, both in the first hour, when they realized GoRuck was much more than they were prepared for. Both were older guys. One of them was me.
The rest appeared to be in their 20s and 30s, almost all visibly strong and fit. A few were military or ex-military. A large contingent from Balance Gym’s CrossFit and boot camp classes signed up together. One trio came down from northern New Jersey, though GoRuck is offered just about everywhere.
“If I can get them to stop arguing, put their differences aside, I succeed in my eyes,” said the leader, or “cadre,” of GoRuck Class 253, a 26-year-old former Green Beret named Chris, who asked that I not use his last name because he might return to active duty someday. He added, “The teamwork, it comes. It naturally happens. I’m just here to coordinate and add some stress.”
At that he is a practiced master. He hectored appointed team leaders and tightened the screws when participants believed they had reached the point of exhaustion. One of his favorite tricks as the night wore on was to add time limits to challenges and mete out penalties if the entire team didn’t hit his deadlines.
Load up and haul out
The night begins at 10 p.m. in Georgetown’s Montrose Park. Participants, who paid $100 or more, depending on when they signed up, arrive carrying backpacks (“rucks” in military parlance) that contain six bricks wrapped in duct tape, along with water, food, gloves and some dry clothing. Chris confiscates watches and cellphones and bans the headlamps each person was instructed to bring. This class will be conducted in complete darkness.
The group is also carrying “team weight” — a box that contains two 25-pound dumbbells and, separately, another 25-pound weight plate — that is a collective responsibility. For the next 111
2 hours, no ruck or team weight can touch the ground. “If a ruck touches the ground,” Chris tells them as they stand in two lines in the darkness of Montrose Park, “I’m going to lose my mind.”